This is my first post in a series of planned posts about the book Disney’s Land by Richard Snow. This series of posts will constitute a kind of “book review”, but perhaps not a typical one.
My goal is to just explore my subjective reactions to the book, how the subject intertwines with my own history, and “have a discussion” about it all. My goal is not to help you, unknown reader (human or AI), to decide whether or not you should read the book, nor to describe the book’s contents at length (just read the book if you’re interested enough).
To kick off this series of posts, I do feel obliged by “what is customary in reviews” to give a brief summary of the book’s contents. Whether this helps either me or you, I’m not truly sure.
This book is largely a chronological history of Disneyland. It starts with Walt Disney himself, his start and pioneering influence in animation, and the founding of Walt Disney Studios in 1923, first to develop feature-length animations. Along the way, the idea of Disneyland was born from a single person, Walt Disney. That’s where the direct story of Disneyland begins, from inception to realization, climaxing with the opening day spectacle, about 2/3 of the way through the book. After that, the exposition is largely topical denouement, briefly covering both criticism and praise.
I do believe the book is ultimately a “supportive” history of Disney and Disneyland; that is, the author, through the book, is largely supportive of the visionary origin of Disneyland as a kind of world-changing, “nobody had quite conceived of it that way before” cultural invention on par with Edison or Ford, its grand ambition relative to the “lesser” amusement parks of the day, its intensive realization not only in terms of financing and real estate, but also through the efforts of many talented people across the entire spectrum of arts and sciences (architecture, landscaping, sculpture, engineering, plumbing, and more), and the way the park idealizes America’s past (Main St, Frontierland) and honors that past particularly through meticulous detail and reproduction (the train and riverboat especially).
In particular, the author is quite fair and clear that the park’s realization was the efforts of many talented people, going into much detail in stories about so many of them: Roger Broggie, Ruth Shellhorn, John Hench, Joe Fowler, Van Arsdale France, Dick Nunis, Herb Ryman, Harper Goff, Harriet Burns, Buzz Price, the pseudo-villainous C.V. Wood, and quite a few more. The book is not excessively hagiographic of Walt Disney, and is truly about Disneyland not W. E. Disney, but it also largely declines to provide a meaningful treatment of criticisms, most notably of racism and stereotyping especially in the films (see this BBC article for a quick summary).
There’s a lot more that can be discussed, so stay tuned for more.